Example #53 Maths and Forgiveness

What if success in maths depended on forgiveness?

Joshua taught maths in a Secondary school and was perplexed by the lack of progress of one student.

"I was puzzled. James was a bright young man who was succeeding in his other subjects but seemed to lose his way when it came to his maths. His behaviour was fine, although I did detect an underlying antagonism that confused me. 'I just don’t like maths,' was his constant refrain. 'It doesn’t make sense.' Since his career prospects would be radically different depending on whether he passed or failed maths, I took the matter further and arranged a conversation in my office. I did some diagnostic tests with his agreement and fortunately I was able to diagnose the particular difficulty involved. James’ maths results began to improve and he passed his exam.

"The reason for James passing his maths test was not an improvement in my teaching technique or the problems the diagnostic tests revealed as the barrier to his learning. Actually, the turning point in our conversation was when James said. 'I’m no good at maths. My teacher in Primary school told me that.' James recounted the story of how a teacher had held up his maths as an example of how not to approach a problem. 'I was so angry and upset,' explained James, 'that I vowed that I would never learn maths for the rest of my life.' We talked about the incident for a little while after which I decided to challenge him. 'James, you are never going to pass maths if you continue to harbour this resentment against that teacher,' I told him. 'You have got to forgive her.' He didn't accept this right away, but after further conversations he told me that after praying about it he had finally conceded that he needed to let go of his resentment and had forgiven his teacher."

What’s going on here?

Joshua saw maths as something that took place in a wider human context; he saw his maths students in a holistic way, as spiritual beings, not just intellectual ones, and this enabled him to see forgiveness as related to learning.

He engaged pupils in connecting failure to moral and spiritual dimensions of experience, and challenged them to make a personal response.

Joshua reshaped his practice by making space to work closely enough with an individual student to get to the heart of the problem, by asking questions that suggested connections between the emotional, spiritual and intellectual in maths, and by persevering with a failing student.

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Love in Christian teaching is far more than feelings for another person. It’s about consistently looking to the interests of others and about doing what we know to be right in our relationships with others, however we may feel. Developing the ability to love may not seem relevant to maths teaching, but this incident brings home how much a failure to love can stunt a person, even in their development as a mathematician. It can erode their hope that they can succeed and flourish in a particular area of learning. In this case, forgiveness was needed for the learner to move forward.

What difference does it make?

As teachers, with test scores to worry about and academic progress to report on, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that our pupils are not simply intellectual beings. This is particularly so in an education system that focuses our attention on mastery of concepts and acquisition of skills. This example reminds us again that intellectual development cannot be separated from other areas of a student’s life. Joshua comments: "This incident re-emphasised for me the importance of thinking of my students as spiritual beings and not just as intellectual machines focused on producing results."

Where could we go from here?

This example of an encounter which leads to an unexpected insight, points to an intentional approach which can pervade our teaching. Instead of just asking “how can I teach so that my students are equipped for their exams” I can also ask “how can I teach in a way that takes account of the fact that my students are whole, spiritual beings?” This will result in a number of changes. For example, it will make us more sensitive to the impact of certain emotions, like grief or anxiety, on student’s learning and cause us to create space for these to be acknowledged and, where necessary, for action to be taken. Or it might mean that we give time to looking at the wider context in which maths is set. For example if the school is involved in a charity initiative, lessons could be focused on how skills in maths can achieve desired goals in that initiative. Thinking in this way means that maths is contributing not just to intellectual development but to the development of the whole person.

Digging deeper

A University of Pittsburgh study of 680 women with chest pain found those who harboured feelings of anger were four times more likely to have unhealthy cholesterol levels and a higher body mass index, both of which are linked to heart disease. Forgiveness is good for our health.

Forgiving others is one of the most difficult aspects of Christian practice. It is not surprising that the poet Alexander Pope said ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine’. Forgiveness is ceasing to feel resentment towards an enemy but that does not mean that evil is allowed to continue; sometimes justice and making amends still need to happen. Forgiveness is often the first step towards reconciliation in a relationship. For Christians, forgiveness is a response to being forgiven by God and was modelled by Christ who forgave his enemies (Luke 23:24) and offers forgiveness to all who come to him. Asking God for forgiveness should result in our forgiveness of others (Matthew 6:14-15; Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness is not just a feeling; it can be an act of will.

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. Corrie Ten Boom

Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive. C. S. Lewis

Forgiveness only happens with the help of God but it benefits both the injured person and the one forgiven.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Lewis B. Smedes

However difficult, forgiveness is crucial, for we who forgive will also need forgiving.

He who cannot forgive others destroys the bridge over which he himself must pass. George Herbert

In the Bible, God is shown as slow to anger but quick to forgive, as mercy is central to his character (Micah 7:18). Various word pictures are used for forgiveness in the Bible. Psalm 103:12 talks about God putting our sins as far away as the east is from the west. Isaiah 1:18 likens forgiveness to removing a stain. One of the New Testament words for forgiveness means cancelling a debt.

Explore similar examples:

What if learning about graphing led to delighting others?
What if anxiety about tests could turn to thankfulness?
What if failures were seen as opportunities to serve?

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1Everyone in the council got up and led Jesus off to Pilate. 2They started accusing him and said, We caught this man trying to get our people to riot and to stop paying taxes to the Emperor. He also claims that he is the Messiah, our king. 3Pilate asked Jesus, Are you the king of the Jews? Those are your words, Jesus answered. 4Pilate told the chief priests and the crowd, I don't find him guilty of anything. 5But they all kept on saying, He has been teaching and causing trouble all over Judea. He started in Galilee and has now come all the way here. Jesus is brought before Herod 6When Pilate heard this, he asked, Is this man from Galilee? 7After Pilate learnt that Jesus came from the region ruled by Herod, he sent him to Herod, who was in Jerusalem at that time. 8For a long time Herod had wanted to see Jesus and was very happy because he finally had this chance. He had heard many things about Jesus and hoped to see him perform a miracle. 9Herod asked him a lot of questions, but Jesus did not answer. 10Then the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses stood up and accused him of all kinds of bad things. 11Herod and his soldiers made fun of Jesus and insulted him. They put a fine robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. 12That same day Herod and Pilate became friends, even though they had been enemies before this. The death sentence (Matthew 27.15-26; Mark 15.6-15; John 18.3919.16) 13Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people. 14He told them, You brought Jesus to me and said he was a troublemaker. But I have questioned him here in front of you, and I have not found him guilty of anything that you say he has done. 15Herod didn't find him guilty either and sent him back. This man doesn't deserve to be put to death! 16I will just have him beaten with a whip and set free. 18But the whole crowd shouted, Kill Jesus! Give us Barabbas! 19Now Barabbas was in jail because he had started a riot in the city and had murdered someone. 20Pilate wanted to set Jesus free, so he spoke again to the crowds. 21But they kept shouting, Nail him to a cross! Nail him to a cross! 22Pilate spoke to them a third time, But what crime has he done? I have not found him guilty of anything for which he should be put to death. I will have him beaten with a whip and set free. 23The people kept on shouting as loud as they could for Jesus to be put to death. 24Finally, Pilate gave in. 25He freed the man who was in jail for rioting and murder, because he was the one the crowd wanted to be set free. Then Pilate handed Jesus over for them to do what they wanted with him. Jesus is nailed to a cross (Matthew 27.31-44; Mark 15.21-32; John 19.17-27) 26As Jesus was being led away, some soldiers grabbed hold of a man from Cyrene named Simon. He was coming in from the fields, but they put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A large crowd was following Jesus, and in the crowd a lot of women were crying and weeping for him. 28Jesus turned to the women and said: Women of Jerusalem, don't cry for me! Cry for yourselves and for your children. 29Some day people will say, Women who never had children are really fortunate! 30At that time everyone will say to the mountains, Fall on us! They will say to the hills, Hide us! 31If this can happen when the wood is green, what do you think will happen when it is dry? 32Two criminals were led out to be put to death with Jesus. 33When the soldiers came to the place called The Skull, they nailed Jesus to a cross. They also nailed the two criminals to crosses, one on each side of Jesus. 34Jesus said, Father, forgive these people! They don't know what they're doing. While the crowd stood there watching Jesus, the soldiers gambled for his clothes. The leaders insulted him by saying, He saved others. Now he should save himself, if he really is God's chosen Messiah! 36The soldiers made fun of Jesus and brought him some wine. 37They said, If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself! 38Above him was a sign that said, This is the King of the Jews. 39One of the criminals hanging there also insulted Jesus by saying, Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and save us! 40But the other criminal told the first one off, Don't you fear God? Aren't you getting the same punishment as this man? 41We got what was coming to us, but he didn't do anything wrong. 42Then he said to Jesus, Remember me when you come into power! 43Jesus replied, I promise that today you will be with me in paradise. The death of Jesus (Matthew 27.45-56; Mark 15.33-41; John 19.28-30) 44Around midday the sky turned dark and stayed that way until the middle of the afternoon. 45The sun stopped shining, and the curtain in the temple split down the middle. 46Jesus shouted, Father, I put myself in your hands! Then he died. 47When the Roman officer saw what had happened, he praised God and said, Jesus must really have been a good man! 48A crowd had gathered to see the terrible sight. Then after they had seen it, they felt brokenhearted and went home. 49All Jesus' close friends and the women who had come with him from Galilee stood at a distance and watched. Jesus is buried (Matthew 27.57-61; Mark 15.42-47; John 19.38-42) 50There was a man named Joseph, who was from Arimathea in Judea. Joseph was a good and honest man, and he was eager for God's kingdom to come. He was also a member of the Jewish council, but he did not agree with what they had decided. 52Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. 53He took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in fine cloth. Then he put it in a tomb that had been cut out of solid rock and had never been used. 54It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and watched how Jesus' body was placed in the tomb. 56Then they went to prepare some sweet-smelling spices for his burial. But on the Sabbath they rested, as the Law of Moses commands. Jesus is alive (Matthew 28.1-10; Mark 16.1-8; John 20.1-10)
1When you do good deeds, don't try to show off. If you do, you won't get a reward from your Father in heaven. 2When you give to the poor, don't blow a loud horn. That's what show-offs do in the meeting places and on the street corners, because they are always looking for praise. I can assure you that they already have their reward. 3When you give to the poor, don't let anyone know about it. 4Then your gift will be given in secret. Your Father knows what is done in secret, and he will reward you. Prayer (Luke 11.2-4) Jesus continued: 5When you pray, don't be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward. 6When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you. 7When you pray, don't talk on and on as people do who don't know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. 8Don't be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask. 9You should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, help us to honour your name. 10Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed in heaven. 11Give us our food for today. 12Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others. 13Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil. 14If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. 15But if you don't forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. Worshipping God by going without eating Jesus continued: 16When you go without eating, don't try to look gloomy as those show-offs do when they go without eating. I can assure you that they already have their reward. 17Instead, comb your hair and wash your face. 18Then others won't know that you are going without eating. But your Father sees what is done in private, and he will reward you. Treasures in heaven (Luke 12.33,34) Jesus continued: 19Don't store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. 20Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. 21Your heart will always be where your treasure is. Light (Luke 11.34-36) Jesus continued: 22Your eyes are like a window for your body. When they are good, you have all the light you need. 23But when your eyes are bad, everything is dark. If the light inside you is dark, you are in the dark. Money (Luke 16.13) Jesus continued: 24You cannot be the slave of two masters! You will like one more than the other or be more loyal to one than the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Worry (Luke 12.22-31) Jesus continued: 25I tell you not to worry about your life. Don't worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear. Isn't life more than food or clothing? 26Look at the birds in the sky! They don't plant or harvest. They don't even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren't you worth more than birds? 27Can worry make you live longer? 28Why worry about clothes? Look how the wild flowers grow. They don't work hard to make their clothes. 29But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth wasn't as well clothed as one of them. 30God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow. He will surely do even more for you! Why do you have such little faith? 31Don't worry and ask yourselves, Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear? 32Only people who don't know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all these. 33But more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. 34Don't worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today. Judging others (Luke 6.37,38,41,42) Jesus said:
1You have been raised to life with Christ. Now set your heart on what is in heaven, where Christ rules at God's right side. 2Think about what is up there, not about what is here on earth. 3You died, which means that your life is hidden with Christ, who sits beside God. 4Christ gives meaning to your life, and when he appears, you will also appear with him in glory. 5Don't be controlled by your body. Kill every desire for the wrong kind of sex. Don't be immoral or indecent or have evil thoughts. Don't be greedy, which is the same as worshipping idols. 6God is angry with people who disobey him by doing these things. 7And that is exactly what you did, when you lived among people who behaved in this way. 8But now you must stop doing such things. You must stop being angry, hateful, and evil. You must no longer say insulting or cruel things about others. 9And stop lying to each other. You have given up your old way of life with its habits. 10Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. 11It doesn't matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. 12God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. 13Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. 14Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together. 15Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful. 16Let the message about Christ completely fill your lives, while you use all your wisdom to teach and instruct each other. With thankful hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17Whatever you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks to God the Father because of him. Some rules for Christian living 18A wife must put her husband first. This is her duty as a follower of the Lord. 19A husband must love his wife and not abuse her. 20Children must always obey their parents. This pleases the Lord. 21Parents, don't be hard on your children. If you are, they might give up. 22Slaves, you must always obey your earthly masters. Try to please them at all times, and not just when you think they are watching. Honour the Lord and serve your masters with your whole heart. 23Do your work willingly, as though you were serving the Lord himself, and not just your earthly master. 24In fact, the Lord Christ is the one you are really serving, and you know that he will reward you. 25But Christ has no favourites! He will punish evil people, just as they deserve.
1I feel so empty inside like someone starving for grapes or figs, after the vines and trees have all been picked clean. 2No one is loyal to God; no one does right. Everyone is brutal and eager to deceive everyone else. 3People cooperate to commit crime. Judges and leaders demand bribes, and rulers cheat in court. 4The most honest of them is worse than a thorn patch. Your doom has come! Lookouts sound the warning, and everyone panics. 5Don't trust anyone, not even your best friend, and be careful what you say to the one you love. 6Sons refuse to respect their own fathers, daughters rebel against their own mothers, and daughters-in-law despise their mothers-in-law. Your family is now your enemy. 7But I trust the Lord God to save me, and I will wait for him to answer my prayer. 8My enemies, don't be glad because of my troubles! I may have fallen, but I will get up; I may be sitting in the dark, but the Lord is my light. 9I have sinned against the Lord . And so I must endure his anger, until he comes to my defence. But I know that I will see him making things right for me and leading me to the light. 10You, my enemies, said, The Lord God is helpless. Now each of you will be disgraced and put to shame. I will see you trampled like mud in the street. A bright future 11Towns of Judah, the day is coming when your walls will be rebuilt, and your boundaries enlarged. 12People will flock to you from Assyria and Egypt, from Babylonia and everywhere else. 13Those nations will suffer disaster because of what they did. Micah's prayer and the Lord 's answer 14Lead your people, Lord ! Come and be our shepherd. Grasslands surround us, but we live in a forest. So lead us to Bashan and Gilead, and let us find pasture as we did long ago. 15I, the Lord , will work miracles just as I did when I led you out of Egypt. 16Nations will see this and be ashamed because of their helpless armies. They will be in shock, unable to speak or hear, 17because of their fear of me, your Lord and God. Then they will come trembling, crawling out of their fortresses like insects or snakes, lapping up the dust. No one is like God The people said: 18Our God, no one is like you. We are all that is left of your chosen people, and you freely forgive our sin and guilt. You don't stay angry for ever; you're glad to have pity 19and pleased to be merciful. You will trample on our sins and throw them in the sea. 20You will keep your word and be faithful to Jacob and to Abraham, as you promised our ancestors many years ago.
1With all my heart I praise the Lord , and with all that I am I praise his holy name! 2With all my heart I praise the Lord ! I will never forget how kind he has been. 3The Lord forgives our sins, heals us when we are sick, 4and protects us from death. His kindness and love are a crown on our heads. 5Each day that we live, he provides for our needs and gives us the strength of a young eagle. 6For all who are ill-treated, the Lord brings justice. 7He taught his Law to Moses and showed all Israel what he could do. 8The Lord is merciful! He is kind and patient, and his love never fails. 9The Lord won't always be angry and point out our sins; 10he doesn't punish us as our sins deserve. 11How great is God's love for all who worship him? Greater than the distance between heaven and earth! 12How far has the Lord taken our sins from us? Further than the distance from east to west! 13Just as parents are kind to their children, the Lord is kind to all who worship him, 14because he knows we are made of dust. 15We humans are like grass or wild flowers that quickly bloom. 16But a scorching wind blows, and they quickly wither to be for ever forgotten. 17The Lord is always kind to those who worship him, and he keeps his promises to their descendants 18who faithfully obey him. 19God has set up his kingdom in heaven, and he rules the whole creation. 20All you mighty angels, who obey God's commands, come and praise your Lord ! 21All you thousands who serve and obey God, come and praise your Lord ! 22All God's creation and all that he rules, come and praise your Lord ! With all my heart I praise the Lord ! The Lord takes care of his creation
1I am Isaiah, the son of Amoz. And this is the message that I was given about Judah and Jerusalem when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were the kings of Judah: A guilty nation 2The Lord has said, Listen, heaven and earth! The children I raised have turned against me. 3Oxen and donkeys know who owns and feeds them, but my people won't ever learn. 4Israel, you are a sinful nation loaded down with guilt. You are wicked and corrupt and have turned from the Lord , the holy God of Israel. 5Why be punished more? Why not give up your sin? Your head is badly bruised, and you are weak all over. 6From your head to your toes there isn't a healthy spot. Bruises, cuts, and open sores go without care or oil to ease the pain. A country in ruins 7Your country lies in ruins; your towns are in ashes. Foreigners and strangers take and destroy your land while you watch. 8Enemies surround Jerusalem, alone like a hut in a vineyard or in a cucumber field. 9Zion would have disappeared like Sodom and Gomorrah, if the Lord All-Powerful had not let a few of its people survive. Justice, not sacrifices 10You are no better than the leaders and people of Sodom and Gomorrah! So listen to the Lord God: 11Your sacrifices mean nothing to me. I am sick of your offerings of rams and choice cattle; I don't like the blood of bulls or lambs or goats. 12Who asked you to bring all this when you come to worship me? Stay out of my temple! 13Your sacrifices are worthless, and incense is disgusting. I can't stand the evil you do on your New Moon Festivals or on your Sabbaths and other times of worship. 14I hate your New Moon Festivals and all others as well. They are a heavy burden I am tired of carrying. 15No matter how much you pray, I won't listen. You are too violent. 16Wash yourselves clean! I am disgusted with your filthy deeds. Stop doing wrong 17and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need. An invitation from the Lord 18I, the Lord , invite you to come and talk it over. Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow or wool. 19If you willingly obey me, the best crops in the land will be yours. 20But if you turn against me, your enemies will kill you. I, the Lord , have spoken. The Lord condemns Jerusalem 21Jerusalem, you are like an unfaithful wife. Once your judges were honest and your people lived right; now you are a city full of murderers. 22Your silver is fake, and your wine is watered down. 23Your leaders have rejected me to become friends of crooks; your rulers are looking for gifts and bribes. Widows and orphans never get a fair trial. 24I am the Lord All-Powerful, the mighty ruler of Israel, and I make you a promise: you are now my enemy, and I will show my anger by taking revenge on you. 25I will punish you terribly and burn away everything that makes you unfit to worship me. 26Jerusalem, I will choose judges and advisers like those you had before. Your new name will be Justice and Faithfulness. The Lord will save Jerusalem 27Jerusalem, you will be saved by showing justice; Zion's people who turn to me will be saved by doing right. 28But those rebellious sinners who turn against me, the Lord , will all disappear. 29You will be made ashamed of those groves of trees where you worshipped idols. 30You will be like a grove of trees dying in a drought. 31Your strongest leaders will be like dry wood set on fire by their idols. No one will be able to help, as they all go up in flames. Peace that lasts for ever